Prospect Park Thrives As City Shuts Down


Judging by the buzzing activity all over Prospect Park, you would hardly notice the entire tri-state area had shuttered this week to prevent further spread of the dreaded coronavirus. 

As of this Tuesday all recreation centers, parks facilities and nature centers are closed to the public. That means no ice skating rinks, zoos, botanical gardens, amusement parks, carousels, tennis courts or souvenir shops with the exception of public bathrooms in parks.

Yet here in Prospect Park, at every turn there was a person running, exercising, or sweating in the chilly sunshine with a friend or family member. And, at least one person trotted by on horseback down one of the numerous dirt trails that skirt the jogging and biking lanes. There’s a distinct lack of masks, face coverings, or gloves that makes the whole scene look like an average almost-Spring day. 

In a recent press conference Governor Andrew Cuomo wholeheartedly denied the potential ‘shelter in place’ order Mayor Bill De Blasio mentioned on the Today show, but did mandate that at least half of all businesses’ workforces stay at home.

Steven Halina and Cookie in Prospect Park. Photo by Ariama Long

“Getting some fresh air,” said Laura G., a public school teacher at P.S.123 ordinarily, “It feels comfortable because we’re not close. We try to get out once a day for our mental health.” 

She relaxed on a blanket with her two children overlooking the park’s Great Lawn from atop a small hill. Her children seemed unbothered as they huddled together enjoying snacks. She said they’ve taken to giving the kids projects and learning different subjects, like art history, to keep them entertained. “I’m sure fights might happen occasionally,” she laughed. 

Prospect Park West on Tuesday. Photo by Ariama Long

Nice weather is partially to blame, but most people commented that they were going “stir crazy” being cooped up in their houses or apartments for days on end. 

People of all ages, from students to retirees, were comfortable and happy revolving around one another while still keeping in mind social distancing. 

Tucked into the corner of a grassy patch was Steven Halin, a freelance photographer in Sunset Park. “This is the closest grass, besides the tree on the sidewalk. This is everyone’s backyard,” said Halin on the importance of the park. He’s accompanied by his five-month-old chihuahua puppy, named Cookie, who’s visiting the park for the first time.

The Great Lawn of Prospect Park on Tuesday. Photo by Ariama Long

Other people were eating or reading under trees. They raced their bikes. Sometimes, deep in the brush, a waft of weed smoke could be sniffed out.  

“As many people as ever in the park,” said landscape painter Jim Ebersole, as he drew a giant tree as reference for his painting back home. He said his work essentially is outside. “I couldn’t imagine staying in my apartment for weeks,” said Ebersole, “Nature is restorative. You can be around people without being too close to them.”

With the city of Wuhan, ground zero for the virus’ outbreak in China, celebrating the closing of their last temporary hospitals and a drop in infections on Monday, it seems like the curves of panic are finally flattening. 

Many people did agree however that if it was deemed necessary by health officials to resort to ‘shelter in place’ they absolutely would stay inside.